To this day they represent a symbol of sacrifice, and of regimental pride, with each silken strip embroidered with the names of battles its men had seen.
At Beverley Minster, having become disordered over the centuries, a moving ceremony was staged yesterday to bring the old East Yorkshire Regiment’s colours into sequence once more.
To historian Mike Peterson, whose own father served, and who was born into the regiment, these colours hold particular significance.
“The most treasured possession of a regiment was its colours,” he said, having authored a book on the history of the regiment and its men.
“It was what they were fighting for, their colours, as well as for king and country. With the fiercest of resistance, they would defend it to the last man. It’s very poignant to see them reunited.”
The East Yorkshire Regiment, later amalgamated with West Yorkshire and finally the Yorkshire Regiment, had some 15 or 16 colours, with a battalion carrying one for its sovereign and a flag to bear the names of remembrance.
Historically, some have been taken out of sequence, and yesterday’s efforts were to reform them in historical, chronological order, enabling historians to closely examine them.
Colonel Charles le Brun, the chairman of the Prince of Wales Own (West and East Yorkshire) Regimental Association, was in attendance to oversee efforts.
Tradition means that once a colour was out of service it was laid to decay, turning to fragments and dust as is “proper”, he said. To see them moved is incredibly rare.
More usually lofted in the heights of the regimental chapel, some distance from the ground, it is impossible under normal circumstances to read the cloth embroidery, as a record that the regiment was there.
Robert Farley, a parishioner and volunteer at the Minster who helped oversee their reunion, said he was struck to see the names, linking Minster men to battles in places like Gallipoli and the Somme.
“They are a tangible link for the people of Yorkshire to remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, with their lives, for our freedom,” he said. “In the face of adversity, they went into battle.
“What was particularly moving, for me, was one from the First World War. All of a sudden you realise its impact. This is living evidence of what these men of Yorkshire did.
“To their relatives, who do live locally, this is very much here and now.
“Sadly, as we all know, not many returned. It’s very poignant to see the words, with your own eyes, and to know the East Yorkshire regiment was there. It’s remarkable.”
Among the colours at Beverley Minster are some from the 1st Battalion of the East Riding Regiment, such as one used from 1912 to 1956 and bearing the name of Gallipoli.
Another, believed to be the oldest, would have served as a beacon to troops in the trenches in the Afghan wars from 1879, described as an “incredible piece of history”.
A third dates from the Boer War, the last time colours were carried in a conflict, more than 120 years ago.
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